Alexander Calder was born on July 22, 1898 in Lawton, Pennsylvania. His grandfather and his father were regionally known sculptors. In 1915 Calder started to study mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey, and received his degree in 1919. Calder then worked for several years as draftsman and engineer, and reported and illustrated sports and circus events for the National Police Gazette. During that time he also did first landscape pictures. In 1923 he began his studies of art at the Arts Students League in New York where he stayed for two years. It was there that he published his book of sketches entitled Animal Sketching (1925/26).
In 1926 Calder moved to Paris, rented a studio, and was a student at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere until 1927. A friendship with Miró began that lasted for a life-time. Calder also came to know fellow-artists Piet Mondrian, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti, and Hans Arp. After a short phase of creating strictly constructivist works he started in 1927 to make small, experimentally movable sculptures of bent wire. In 1930/31 he created a circus ensemble out of several small wooden figures. On various levels, the circus and things circus-related became general themes in Calder’s art. Also in 1931, he had his first solo exhibition at the Paris Galerie Percier, where he showed fixed wire constructions. Until 1934 Calder kept translating the cubist principle of changing axes and of turning forms into prisms into the medium of sculpture. At the same time, he reflected on the time-space aspect by connecting mobile tin forms with strings and rods around a central axis functioning as girder. Duchamp who himself focused on mobile Ready-Mades at the time, officially called Calder’s moving constructions Mobiles. Until then, this term with its reference to autonomous mobility and movability had been used for arts-and-crafts decoration such as Christmas decoration or children’s toys. Clocks with mobile figurines, carnivals with their flying swings, wind vanes, 18th-century human automatons, circus acrobatics, contemporary dance, contemporary steel frame architecture, and, very importantly, film, were Calder’s inspirations. His biomorphic tin forms are recognizably influenced by Miró.
In 1931 Calder had become a member of the Paris-based artist group »Abstraction-Création.« Moreover, he worked with rigid metal constructions that – while committed to constructivism – always created spherical spaces. Like the Mobiles, they encompassed an autonomous spatial volume. Hans Arp named these sculptures Stabiles. After 1939 Calder perfected the hinges of his Mobiles with loops of iron wire and metal rods. The sculptural form itself was cut out of sheet metal and mostly painted in the three basic colors: red, yellow, and blue. This contributed to a flag-like signalizing effect of the Mobiles. Calder not only placed his sheet metal shapes, perfectly balanced on axis rods, as self-supporting sculptures in space. He also mounted his Mobiles on ceilings where the forms, like strange birds or aerial acrobats, create a compositional choreography of the air through which they glide elegantly, without sound. Initially Calder had experimented with motor-driven movement, but soon he gave this mechanistic element up in favour of a silent gliding of his kinetic form elements. With all their mechanical montage, Calder’sMobiles still do not dissect the air into spatial segments that record the movement. Instead they create, depending on the kinetic impulse, simultaneous sequences of movement and spatial volumes that keep reconstituting themselves in new ways. These sequences may evoke associations of the playful, aleatoric movement of leaves in the wind, of wind-blown grass, or the seemingly weightless drifting of schools of fish.
Aside from his mobile as well as his static sculptures, Calder created numerous stage sets and produced drawings and lithographies. In 1953 – Calder had long started to do commissioned work sometimes consisting of huge, high-rise sculptures – he moved into a studio in Saché, close to Tours. With his Mobiles, moved either by touch or by air drafts, Calder created a new art category. It thematized the three-dimensional space of movement and kinetic energy as well as time and space. Calder also wrote an autobiography that was published in 1966. After returning to the U.S., he had a studio in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Alexander Calder died on November 11, 1976, in New York.
When We Were Young. New Perspective on the Art of a Child: Ausst.-Kat. Philipps Collection, Washington D.C., hg. v. J. Fineberg, Berkley 2006
Und es bewegt sich doch …: Von Alexander Calder und Jean Tinguely bis zur zeitgenössischen »mobilen Kunst«: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Bochum, hg. v. H.-G. Golinski u.a., Bochum 2006
The surreal Calder: Ausst.-Kat. Menil Collection, Houston, hg. v. M. Rosenthal, New Haven 2005
Giménez, C. (Hg.): Calder. Gravity and Grace, London 2004
Calder / Mio: Ausst.-Kat. Fondation Beyerle, Riehen, hg. v. E. Hutten-Turner, O. Wick, Leipzig 2004
Baal-Teshuva, J.: Alexander Calder 1898 — 1976, Köln 2002
Rower, A.S.C.: Calder, New York 1998
Alexander Calder 1898 — 1976: Ausst.-Kat. Musée d’Art Moderne Paris, hg. v. S. Page, Paris 1996
Alexander Calder. Die großen Skulpturen, der andere Calder: Ausst.-Kat. Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, hg. v. D. Abadie, P. Hulten, Bonn 1993